Everyone Doesn’t Sound As Good As You Think
Listening to other Japanese learners who are a higher level than you speak Japanese results in one of two reactions. It motivates: you want to sound like they do and realize this is what is awaiting the fruits of your hard work. It discourages: you become annoyed at your own pace and level, and want to know why you aren’t as good as them yet. The good news for you is that that the Japanese they are speaking is probably nowhere near as good as you think. You have merely fallen prey to the Japanese Fluent Illusion.
When you study Japanese, people who know more than you tend to sound significantly better. You might even think they are fluent. But this is not the reality. Everything you hear will be in comparison to your own level. It doesn’t take much to create this illusion of greatness. Even someone merely 10 levels over you (which might only equal a few months more of studying) is enough to make you look up to them.
But with Japanese Level Up, you will soon surpass them, shattering the illusion. They were never that great, and may have actually been pretty bad. You can experience this often on You Tube video blogs. Before you watch any of these videos and start to think “wow they are fluent and oh so amazing,” remember that this feeling will be quite temporary. As your listening ability skyrockets, even some of the “great” Japanese speakers on the internet you used to admire in your earlier levels will begin to sound different.
The Reality Of Fluent Japanese Speakers
As the illusion fades away, you will soon realize how few real fluent Japanese speakers there are. I can only hypothesize at this point, but I believe people often become too content with a middle level. Once they hit somewhere around 30-50, they don’t think they need to study anymore and don’t realize how much they have left to go. While there Japanese is “good”, their pronunciation still sounds very foreign, they make many mistakes, and they don’t yet have that natural flow.
I believe that you, the next generation of Japanese speakers, will be different. You won’t be satisfied at average. You will join the ranks of the few and bask in the rewards.
Even I still am working on my speaking. While I’ve just recently surpassed level 70, and almost every skill is approaching the final 10-level stretch to native, my speaking still has its foreign sounding tendencies and occasional mistakes. This is natural, as speaking will always be the last skill to follow the rest of your abilities.
This should also remind you that should never stop aiming for higher grounds.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
I’ve noticed this in how some other people talk to me about my Japanese abilities…
I know for a fact that I’m not that good, maybe level 30 or so, but people are talking about how they want their Japanese to be as good as mine. It’s so weird hearing this because I know how much I struggle through the language — which is a lot. I guess they just don’t see that part, they just see me at my best. They don’t see me spending 5-10 minutes to produce those two measly sentences. They don’t see me struggling through a sentence I’m reading or looking stuff up in a dictionary. They don’t know of all the stuff I hear that I just don’t understand at all.
In others we tend to notice the positives, not the negatives. When we look at ourselves, it is the exact opposite.
Anyway, my point is that I can completely see where this comes from. People tend to see something they can’t do as being amazing and then assume that that person is better than they actually are.
Yes! This post touches on exactly how I’ve felt. I avoid watching Japanese vlogs by non-native speakers for this reason. They just make me feel down. And this is quite embarrassing to say, because people share with me Japanese vlogs all the time. In fact, those videos might not even be as great as I think… I’ve just avoided them for so long that it’s become unpleasant to consider watching them. I hope my perspective on this changes one day…
But in the past, I’ve felt envious over the Japanese of friends I met at a camp I went to, just to find out that years later I would surpass them because we took different paths in studying. I never knew that their Japanese was lower-intermediate at best, because I was only a beginner with some of the benefits of using the immersion method (a beginner of the immersion method and of a classroom setting has different skills).
Interesting thing, my husband said it might be harder for me to understand an American person’s fast paced Japanese more so than a native Japanese speaker because of that person’s errors, not because they are fluent. Because I’m not fluent enough to hear those errors, I just take it as he or she is fluent. Also, a Japanese speaker is more aware that you are learning Japanese, so they may edit their Japanese so that you’ll understand. While a foreigner will try to use his or her best Japanese, without realizing you might not understand.
I remember sitting in 302 class from a power point presentation from a student that returned from a study abroad. He kept saying his Japanese was terrible and he hardly knew any before going abroad. I did notice that his Japanese was a little funny, but the rest of the class thought his Japanese was amazing and fluent. It really puzzled me and I began to notice this phenomenon.
lol this video is the exact proof of this:
「悪口ではなくて、正直な感想を言いますね。 まだこういう動画を作る程、ミラさんの日本語能力は高くないと思っています。 どちらかというと実戦で培われた日本語と思いますので・・・ （動画で言っている赤ちゃんと同じ方法ですね！） 本格的に文法学習や語彙力向上に努めれば、完璧に近づけるはずですっ！ 追伸 意図的に使っているかもしれませんが、語尾に「～ね」が多いですね」
“Learning Japanese outside of Japan is really hard”
Does she follow with learning Japanese in Japan is also really hard? There is a strange correlation issue with people learning in Japan vs. outside of Japan, but that topic is for another day.